Want more Spanish etymologies? Let us know!
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
logo

The Nerdy Way To Learn: Spanish » Patterns » SH to J »

Jabón — Soap

Soap and the Span­ish for the same, jabón, sound like they have noth­ing in com­mon. But sounds can be de­ceiv­ing.

Both come from the same root: the Latin se­bum, mean­ing “grease”.

How can such dif­fer­ent words be so re­lat­ed? Easy: the Latin s- sound and its vari­a­tions (sh‑, ch- and sy- for ex­am­ple) usu­al­ly be­came, un­der the ara­bic in­flu­ence, a j- sound in Span­ish but re­mained more in­tact in Eng­lish.

Thus, the s‑p of soap maps al­most ex­act­ly to the j‑b of jabón. The “p” and “b” are of­ten eas­i­ly in­ter­changed as well.

Less fun is al­so not­ing that, from the same Latin root, mean­ing “grease” we al­so get se­b­or­rhea (a med­ical con­di­tion of hav­ing too much grease on your skin).

Ju­go and Suck

One of our fa­vorite pat­terns of sound change be­tween Eng­lish and Span­ish is the sh/j shift: un­der the in­flu­ence of ara­bic, many words that had a “s” or “sh” or “sy” or “ch” sound in Latin, start­ed to be pro­nounced with the throat-clear­ing sound and writ­ten with a “j”. See sherry/jerez and chess/ajedrez or syrup/jarabe, for ex­am­ple.

An­oth­er ex­am­ple of this pat­tern is the Span­ish word for “juice”, ju­go. It comes from the Latin suc­cus mean­ing, “juice” (par­tic­u­lar­ly sap, or juice from plants).

From this Latin root suc­cus we al­so get the Eng­lish… suck.

Yes, if it sucks — it is juicy! Lit­er­al­ly!

We can see the map­ping in the s‑c to j‑g map­ping. The “c” and “g” sounds are sim­i­lar and of­ten in­ter­changed.

In­ter­est­ing­ly, in Spain they do not say ju­go to mean “juice”; in­stead, they say… su­co. Su­co, fun­ni­ly enough, al­so comes from the same root of suc­cus. It is just the vari­a­tion that nev­er un­der­went the ara­bic “j” trans­for­ma­tion.

From the same root we al­so get the Eng­lish suc­cu­lent, al­though we do not get the su­per­fi­cial­ly sim­i­lar Eng­lish juice, which comes from the Latin ius, mean­ing, “sauce.”

Eno­jar and An­noy

Eno­jar, Span­ish for “to get an­gry”, has a fun cousin in the Eng­lish, an­noy.

Both of these (along with the French for “world­ly bore­dom”, en­nui) come from the Latin in­odi­are, mean­ing, “to hate”. The Latin in- adds em­pha­sis to the odi­um, Latin for “hate”.

We can see the par­al­lels in all with the open vow­el, fol­lowed by the ‑n-, fol­lowed by a ‑y- sound, al­though in Span­ish the ‑y- sounds (and its cor­re­spond­ing ‑x- and ‑sh- vari­a­tions) of­ten turned in­to the ‑j- sounds, as it did here. Thus, the a‑n-y maps to the e‑n-j.

Ha­tred, then, dis­si­pates and weak­ens over time. In Eng­lish, ha­tred weak­ens in­to mere an­noy­ance. In Span­ish, ha­tred weak­ens in­to just anger, eno­jo. And, best of all, ha­tred in French weak­ens in­to a world-weary bore­dom of en­nui.

Em­ba­ja­da and Em­bassy

Em­bassy (and Am­bas­sador) and its Span­ish equiv­a­lent, Em­ba­ja­da (and Em­ba­jador), both come from the same an­ces­tor, the Old French Am­bac­tos.

What is most in­ter­est­ing about these two is that it is an ex­am­ple of the pat­tern where the ‑j- sound in Span­ish maps to the ‑sh- sound (and its cousins, like ‑ss- and ‑ch-) in Eng­lish. Re­mem­ber syrup and jarabe, chess and aje­drez, sher­ry and jerez, and push and em­pu­jar for a few ex­am­ples.

Thus, the m‑b-j of emaba­ja­da maps to the m‑b-ss of em­bassy.

Jefe — Chief

Chief jefe spanish english

Chief, and the Span­ish for the same, Jefe, both come from the same root: the French chef, which means the same.

But this is odd as they sound so dif­fer­ent! How are they re­lat­ed?

It’s not ob­vi­ous, but it’s easy once you un­der­stand the pat­tern: The Latin sound “sh” and very sim­i­lar sounds (such as the “ch” and “sy”) al­most al­ways be­came a “j” in Span­ish. Like syrup and jarabe. Not ob­vi­ous!

logo

© 2021 - All Rights Reserved | Contact | Privacy, Terms & Conditions | Sitemap| Resources | Etymology Dictionaries To Help Us Learn Spanish

Hat Tip 🎩 to The Marketing Scientist